From New World Encyclopedia

Billboards and street advertising in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan, 2005

Advertising is the business of drawing public attention to goods and services, and is performed through a variety of media. It is an important part of an overall promotional strategy used by businesses to sell their product. Advertising has developed as technology has advanced. From the original world of mouth and town criers of times past, to the virtual advertising possible through the use of computers, advertising has been common in most societies. In fact, those societies that have not permitted advertising have been totalitarian states, with little freedom for their members. Advertising also benefits the individual consumer, providing information regarding products prior to purchase, as well as publicizing (and consequently lowering) prices.

Advertising can thus be seen to have positive results, both for those developing a market for their products and for society in general. On the negative side, however, advertising is partly responsible for increasing materialistic consumerism, as people are tempted to buy items they have no real need for. While encouraging creativity, without moral and ethical guidelines, advertising has tended to exploit the baser human desires, advancing hedonism. Advertisers, as all those involved in the field of communication must recognize their responsibility to uphold societal standards and thus contribute to the improvement of human society.


Edo period advertising flier from 1806 for a traditional medicine called Kinseitan

In ancient times the most common form of advertising was by word of mouth; however, commercial messages and political campaign displays have been found in the ruins of Pompeii. Egyptians used papyrus to create sales messages and wall posters, while lost-and-found advertising on papyrus was common in Greece and Rome. Wall or rock painting for commercial advertising is another manifestation of an ancient media advertising form, which is present to this day in many parts of Asia, Africa, and South America. For instance, the tradition of wall paintings can be traced back to Indian rock-art paintings that goes back to 4000 B.C.E.[1] As printing developed in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, advertising expanded to include handbills. In the seventeenth century advertisements started to appear in weekly newspapers in England.

As the economy expanded during the nineteenth century, the need for advertising grew at the same pace. In the United States, classified ads became popular, filling pages of newspapers with small print messages promoting all kinds of goods. The success of this advertising format led to the growth of mail-order advertising such as the Sears Catalog, at one time referred to as the “Farmer's Bible.” In 1843 Volney Palmer established the first advertising agency in Philadelphia. At first, these agencies were just brokers for ad space in newspapers, but by the twentieth century, advertising agencies started to take over responsibility for the content as well.

A print advertisement for the 1913 issue of the Encyclopædia Britannica

The 1960s saw advertising transform into a modern, more scientific approach in which creativity was allowed to shine, producing unexpected messages that made advertisements more tempting to consumers' eyes. The Volkswagen advertising campaign featuring such headlines as "Think Small" and "Lemon" ushered in the era of modern advertising by promoting a "position" or "unique selling proposition" designed to associate each brand with a specific idea in the reader or viewer's mind.

The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the introduction of cable television. Pioneering the concept of the music video, the MTV channel ushered in a new type of advertising: the consumer tunes in "for" the advertisement, rather than it being a byproduct or afterthought. As cable (and later satellite) television became increasingly prevalent, "specialty" channels began to emerge, and eventually entire channels, such as QVC, Home Shopping Network, and ShopTV, were devoted to advertising merchandise.

Marketing through the internet opened new frontiers for advertisers and led to the "dot-com" boom of the 1990s. Entire corporations operated solely on advertising revenue, offering everything from coupons to free internet access. At the turn of the twenty-first century, the search engine Google revolutionized online advertising by emphasizing contextually relevant, unobtrusive ads intended to help, rather than inundate, users. This has led to a plethora of similar efforts and an increasing trend of interactive advertising.

Types of Advertising

Paying people to hold signs in public places is one of the oldest forms of advertising such as this "board guy."[2]

Advertising takes many forms, which have developed as advances have been made in communications technology. Some examples include word of mouth, print, commercials, public service announcements, covert advertising, and virtual advertisements.

Word of mouth

Unpaid advertising (also called word of mouth advertising), can provide good exposure at minimal cost. Personal recommendations ("bring a friend"), or achieving the feat of equating a brand with a common noun—"Xerox" is equivalent to photocopier, "Kleenex" to tissue, and "Vaseline" to petroleum jelly—are the pinnacles of any advertising campaign. However, some companies have opposed the use of their brand name to label an object.

Printed advertising

Transit advertising is combined with experiential marketing using pedapods in Australia

Printed materials used in advertising can include wall paintings, billboards, street furniture components, printed flyers, bus stop benches, magazines, newspapers, sides of buses, taxicab doors and roof mounts, subway platforms and trains, stickers on products in supermarkets, posters, and the backs of event tickets and store receipts. Any place an "identified" sponsor pays to present their message in the print medium is advertising.


Radio and television commercials are popular methods of promoting products and services. The advertiser pays for a specific amount of time, usually less than one minute, during or between particular programs in which to present their message. The television commercial is generally considered the most effective mass-market advertising format and this is reflected by the high prices TV networks charge for commercial airtime during popular TV events. The annual Super Bowl football game in the United States is known as much for its commercial advertisements as for the game itself, and the average cost of a single 30-second TV spot during this game had reached $2.5 million by 2006.

Public service advertising

The same advertising techniques used to promote commercial goods and services can be used to inform, educate, and motivate the public about non-commercial issues, such as AIDS and other health issues, political ideology, environmental concerns, religious recruitment, and charitable activities. Public Service Announcements (PSA) are messages in the public interest disseminated without charge, with the objective of raising awareness of, and changing public attitudes and behavior towards, a social issue. In the UK, they are generally called 'public information films' (PIFs); in Hong Kong, they are known as 'announcements in the public interest' ('APIs').

Television shows featuring episodes that focus on a social or health issue, may made PSAs that are shown directly after the episodes. Examples include episodes on alcoholism, suicide, child abduction, or domestic violence.

Covert advertising

Did you know?
Covert advertising, or "product placement," is where a product is embedded in other entertainment media

Covert advertising, when a product or brand is embedded in other entertainment media, is known as "product placement." A common version of this involves advertising in film, by having a main character use an item of a definite brand. Examples include a computer or a watch with its logo clearly visible, a particular brand of shoes mentioned frequently as "classics" by the lead character, or a particular brand of automobile used in action sequences.

Virtual advertisements

Virtual advertisements may be inserted into regular television programming through computer graphics. These may be inserted into otherwise blank backdrops,[3] or used to replace local billboards that are not relevant to the remote broadcast audience.[4] Virtual product placement is also used to include items that did not exist in the actual scene.[5]

Internet advertising developed rapidly at the end of the twentieth century. Prices of web-based advertising space are dependent on the "relevance" of the surrounding web content and the traffic that the website receives. E-mail advertising is another phenomenon connected to the development of the internet, following the same pattern as direct mail advertising and telemarketing. Unsolicited bulk E-mail advertising is known as "spam."


The impact of advertising has been a matter of considerable debate and many different claims have been made in different contexts. During debates about the banning of cigarette advertising, a common claim from tobacco companies was that cigarette advertising does not encourage people to smoke who would not otherwise. The (eventually successful) opponents of advertising, on the other hand, claimed that advertising did in fact increase consumption.

According to many media sources, the past experience and state of mind of the person subjected to advertising may determine the impact that advertising has. For example, young children (under the age of four) may be unable to distinguish advertising from other television programs, whilst the ability to determine the truthfulness of the message may not be developed until the age of eight. In any event, it is undeniable that advertising exposes the public to the product and/or a brand name, leading to subsequent recognition of the item or brand on a future occasion.

Ethics of Advertising

Because of the potential impact on society, advertisers face a number of ethical dilemmas. The International Chamber of Commerce suggests maintaining transparent, accessible identities so that consumers will know exactly who is advertising what. The ICC also suggests that advertisers protect data on consumers, and that their messages are not perceived as pornographic, violent, racist, or otherwise offensive.[6]

There are a number of advertising practices deemed illegal. One such practice, known as "bait and switch," involves advertisements for tremendous savings on a product but when consumers inquire about the product, they are told it is sold out. More often than not, consumers will spend money on a similar item with no discount.[7] One problem brought about through advances in internet technology occurred when online advertisements were charged based on how many people click on them. Unethical companies continuously click on their competitors' ads in order to quickly exhaust their advertising budget, a practice known as "click fraud."[8]

Criticism and Regulation

As advertising and marketing efforts have become increasingly ubiquitous in modern Western societies, the industry has come under criticism. The industry is accused of being one of the engines powering the economic mass production system that promotes consumption. Recognizing the social impact of advertising, special interest groups, such as Mediawatch-UK, began work to educate consumers about how they can register their concerns with advertisers and regulators.

Public interest groups have increasingly suggested that access to the mental space targeted by advertisers should be taxed, in that at the present moment that space is being freely taken advantage of by advertisers with no compensation paid to the members of the public who are thus being intruded upon. A proposed tax would be a Pigovian tax, acting to reduce what is increasingly seen as a public nuisance. Florida enacted such a tax in 1987 but was forced to repeal it after six months, as a result of a concerted effort by national commercial interests—which withdrew planned conventions, causing major losses to the tourism industry—and canceled advertising, causing a loss of 12 million dollars to the broadcast industry alone.

There have been increasing efforts to protect the public interest by regulating the content and the reach of advertising. Some examples are the ban on television tobacco advertising and restrictions on alcohol advertising imposed in many countries, and the total ban on advertising to children under twelve imposed by the Swedish government in 1991.

Naturally, many advertisers view governmental regulation or even self-regulation as intrusion of their freedom of speech or a necessary evil. Therefore, they employ a wide-variety of linguistic devices to bypass regulatory laws The advertising of controversial products such as cigarettes and condoms is subject to government regulation in many countries. For example, the tobacco industry is required by law in India and Pakistan to display warnings cautioning consumers about the health hazards of their products. However, linguistic variation is often used by advertising as a creative device to reduce the impact of such requirements.[1]

Value of Advertising

Advertising has a number of benefits to society and business. Businesses are able to make potential customers aware of their products, which leads to a more efficient market as consumers have more information available to them. Knowledge of a market increases consumer choice, leading to lower prices overall. Advertising helps companies build a brand, letting the public know that they are reliable.

Advertising also benefits society. Advertising supports such industries as television and radio. Stations are able to broadcast programming to the public at no charge to the public because advertisers underwrite the costs of production and broadcasting.


Technology has provided both opportunity and threats to the advertising world. The internet is an entirely new frontier for advertisers. Other advances pose problems for advertisers, as technology allows users to record programs for later viewing without commercials. To counter this effect, many advertisers have opted for covert advertising in the form of product placement.

Another significant trend is the growing importance of niche or targeted advertising. In the past, the most efficient way to deliver a message was to blanket the largest mass market audience possible. However, usage tracking, customer profiles, and the growing popularity of niche content provides advertisers with audiences that are smaller but much better defined, leading to commercials that are more relevant to viewers and more effective for marketing products.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Tej K. Bhatia, Advertising in Rural India: Language, Marketing Communication, and Consumerism (Tokyo Press, 2000, ISBN 4872977823).
  2. “The 'board guys' of London's west end.” The Guardian, November 15, 2005. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  3. Michael McCarthy, Digitally inserted ads pop up more in sports USA Today, October 17, 2002. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  4. Keith McArthur, No, those Casino Rama ads aren't running in NYC The Globe and Mail, April 23, 2018. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  5. Nancy Cohen, Virtual Product Placement Infiltrates TV, Film, Games E-Commerce Times, February 23, 2006. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  6. Katherine T. Frith and Barbara Mueller, Advertising and Societies: Global Issues (Peter Lang Inc., 2010, ISBN 978-1433103858).
  7. Stan Mack, What Are the Ethical Limits in Advertising? Chron. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  8. Julia Layton, What is this click fraud that is costing Google billions? HowStuffWorks. Retrieved March 27, 2020.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bhatia, Tej K. Advertising in Rural India: Language, Marketing Communication, and Consumerism. Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa. Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Tokyo Press, 2000. ISBN 4872977823
  • Frith, Katherine T, and Barbara Mueller. Advertising and Societies: Global Issues. Peter Lang Inc., 2010. ISBN 978-1433103858
  • Graydon, Shari. Made You Look - How Advertising Works and Why You Should Know. Annick Press, 2003. ISBN 1550378147
  • Johnson, J. Douglas. Advertising Today. Chicago: Science Research Associates, 1978. ISBN 0574193553
  • Klein, Naomi. No Logo. Harper-Collins, 2000. ISBN 0006530400
  • Kleppner, Otto. Advertising Procedure. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1979. ISBN 978-0130181190
  • Leon, Jose Luis. Los efectos de la publicidad. Barcelona: Ariel, 1996. ISBN 8434412667
  • Leon, Jose Luis. Mitoanálisis de la publicidad. Barcelona: Ariel, 2001. ISBN 8434412853
  • Mulvihill, Donald F. "Marketing Research for the Small Company." Journal of Marketing (1951):179-183.
  • Wernick, Andrew. Promotional Culture: Advertising, Ideology and Symbolic Expression (Theory, Culture & Society Series). London: Sage Publications Ltd., 1991. ISBN 0803983905

External links

All links retrieved June 15, 2023.


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